The Happy President

Watching the news conference last week, one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president’s seemingly effortless high spirits. He’s in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn’t seem to be suffering, which is jarring.

Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn’t Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president’s since polling began. He’s in a good mood. Discuss.


Beginning of the end?

Two prominent Republican senators, John Warner and Dick Lugar, have crafted a bill that would require the White House to draw up plans for a U.S. redeployment OUT of front line combat and INTO border security and counterterrorism roles. The bill would require the White House to present these plans to Congress in mid-October.

Is this the beginning of the end for our combat involvement in Iraq? Obviously, the bill doesn’t contain any real teeth to it (no cut-off of funding, no firm withdrawal date, etc.). But, it does show a willingness to break with the White House that heretofore had been absent amongst prominent Republicans. Warner and Lugar are smart guys who see that the political progress we had hoped would accompany our troop surge in Iraq just isn’t happening. I think Warner and Lugar are hoping to serve as a “third wheel” that plays a significant role in the coming months as a mediator between the Democratic congress and the White House in regards to a substantive shift in our Iraq policy. One other consideration is that Warner is up for re-election in ’08 and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the political fallout over Iraq that will probably continue from ’06.

Prediction Markets for Politics

This article details a few of the better-known political prediction markets. These markets (at least some of them) allow participants to buy real($$$) contracts based on certain election outcomes. One of the sites, Intrade, also offers the opportunity to wager on a variety of subjects (weather, current events, etc). I’m not advocating for or assessing the legality of placing wagers (although I will say that this SHOULD be 100% legal), just pointing out that these sites will be a valuable source of information as the 2008 election approaches. By the way, the markets currently expect a match-up between Clinton and Giuliani. Yikes!

Dispelling Conspiracy Theories

Caught this link from Johnny’s last post. In addition to exploring the autism/vaccine issue, it’s an interesting exploration of the psychology behind conspiracy theories in general and how hard it is to successfully influence someone once they’ve gone down that road. Here’s a couple of key passages on the latter topic:

People who study irrational beliefs have a variety of ways of explaining why we cling to them. In rational choice theory, what appear to be crazy choices are actually rational, in that they maximize an individual’s benefit—or at least make him or her feel good.

Another explanation for the refusal to face facts is what cognitive scientists call confirmation bias. Years ago, when writing an article for the Washington Post Magazine about the Tailwind affair, a screwy piece of journalism about a nonexistent attack on American POWs with sarin gas, I concluded that the story’s CNN producers had become wedded to the thesis after interviewing a few unreliable sources. After that, they unconsciously discounted any facts that interfered with their juicy story. They weren’t lying—except, perhaps, to themselves. They had brain blindness—confirmation bias.

Slate Magazine

A blow to the "You’re Special" generation

A very interesting article over at “The Journal” (anyone still missing Imus in the morning?) about the challenges of the “tell-me-how-great-I-am” generation.

Can anyone on here relate to Mia?:

Some young adults are consciously calibrating their dependence on praise. In New York, Web-developer Mia Eaton, 32, admits that she loves being complimented. But she feels like she’s living on the border between a twentysomething generation that requires overpraise and a thirtysomething generation that is less addicted to it. She recalls the pre-Paris Hilton, pre-reality-TV era, when people were famous — and applauded — for their achievements, she says. When she tries to explain this to younger colleagues, “they don’t get it. I feel like I’m hurting their feelings because they don’t understand the difference.”

You mean, some people were famous because they DID STUFF?

No doubt the “you’re special” tendencies, where everyone gets a trophy, papers are graded with purple pens, and people are praised just for showing up has its downfalls. Apparently corporations have tried to accommodate this ridiculousness. Bank of America even has a “Senior Vice President of Recognition and Rewards.” But some feel that it’s not enough; that there needs to be an adjustment in the praise philosophy:

In the end, ego-stroking may feel good, but it doesn’t lead to happiness, says Prof. Twenge, the narcissism researcher, who has written a book titled “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable than Ever Before.” She would like to declare a moratorium on “meaningless, baseless praise,” which often starts in nursery school. She is unimpressed with self-esteem preschool ditties, such as the one set to the tune of “Frère Jacques”: “I am special/ I am special/ Look at me…”

I’ve always felt that the constant praise felt better for the parent, teacher, or employer than it did for the praisee. Meanwhile I grabbed a book the other day (at a library sale) titled, The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence, which takes the opposite tack: that the middle-class culture of meritocracy and “tough love” is ruining our young people. Aaaah…the search for balance, it’s never-ending.


Secret Ballot

Actually got a voicemail last night regarding this issue, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This seems like the oddest idea ever. Apparently, Ted Kennedy has introduced a bill that would require employees to vote on Union Membership in the open. The Chamber feels this will just open the door for blatant coersion from Union Officials to force employees to vote yes for unionizing.

Speaking of Unions, Gahagan posted on the Readers Blog about the story of the AFL-CIO coming out AGAINST the immigration bill.

Meanwhile the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of course, has “applauded the bi-partisan” efforts of Congress and SUPPORTED the bill. Oddly enough it was pretty hard to find on the site, and the issue is curiously completely absent on the “I support business” section of the site. Possibly, they didn’t want to equate supporting business with supporting an amnesty bill.

Either way, Kennedy’s secret ballot bill looks pretty insane on the surface, although I still can’t see the impetus behind it in the first place, so possibly I’m malinformed. According to the Chamber site, they’re supposed to vote on it this week.

Stretch Marks for Dads

Recent research is indicating that it’s not just mothers that have physical changes as a result of pregnancy….us dads are changing too. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s also preliminary but tantalizing evidence that fatherhood can change the brain. A 2006 study found enhancements in the prefrontal cortex of the father marmoset. After childbirth, the neurons in this region showed greater connectivity, suggesting that having young children could boost the part of the brain responsible for planning and memory, skills parents need when having kids gives them more to keep track of. The neurons also had more receptors for vasopressin, a hormone that has been shown to prompt animal fathers to bond with offspring.

The article also mentions that such research is sparse, especially in relation to the voluminous research on moms. We matter too, right?